As far as business prospects go, 4chan has never been a particularly good one. The anonymous, anything-goes message board for provocative trolls has struggled to stay afloat almost since its inception.
But on Sunday night, the site’s current owner, Japanese web entrepreneur Hiroyuki Nishimura, seemed to imply that the situation was no longer tenable. “We had tried to keep 4chan as is,” he wrote on the site’s /qa/ board. “But I failed. I am sincerely sorry … Some changes will happen in the future.”
“The problems are simple,” he said. “Ads don’t work well. Infrastructure costs go up … We tried other ways, but it [was not] enough.”
But Nishimura insists that he has not had any problems finding advertisers and that the site’s current difficulties do not spring from its content. Instead, he says, display advertising is no longer profitable for 4chan because so many of its users have installed ad-blocking extensions.
In many ways, this is business as usual for 4chan, which has — over its 13-year history — only occasionally broke even. The site was famously founded, and run until September 2015, by a then-15-year-old kid named Christopher Poole, who considered it “a hobby and not a business.”
Still, 4chan survived. By February 2009, server costs were running Poole$6,000 each month, and he was charging them to his personal credit cardwhile living with his mother. In 2012, he attempted a new monetization stream in the form of the $20-a-year 4chan pass program, which lets members skip the annoying captchas that are ubiquitous on the site. The year after, he set up a self-serve ad platform that let anyone run ads for as little as $20 — eliminating, at least in theory, the need to either beg donations or attract mainstream advertisers.
“It’s always been my desire to provide 4chan for free to as many people as possible, for as long as possible—something that gets harder and harder as the years go by and the site’s traffic increases,” Poole wrote at the time.
That challenge apparently has not disappeared under 4chan’s new leadership, although Nishimura came with some experience in this realm: His first site, the Japanese message board on which 4chan was based, was making a reported $1 million in yearly profits at one point, despite similar image problems.
“Maybe, maybe not,” he said about whether the upload limits will ultimately close the budget gap. “4chan users tend to react beyond [what] I imagine.”